News and Tribune


October 3, 2012


Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Gains outweigh concerns about international student growth

The presence of nearly 6,000 international students on the Indiana University Bloomington campus this year is a benchmark worth celebrating.

A story in the Sunday Herald-Times noted a couple of reasons it also is causing some concern. One reason is that some of the students — often from China, Korea or other Asian countries — do not have the language proficiency necessary to smoothly blend into class.

Another is that some students do not have cultural sensitivity to established ethics of higher education — in other words, they might share information inappropriately to lend an unfair advantage, which stated clearly is cheating.

While those reasons deserve attention, the overall value of international students to a campus, its surrounding community and the world in general far outweighs them.

In a world growing more global economically, socially and politically, exposure to people from other cultures enhances the chance for connections that can promote prosperity and solve problems. These connections and the understanding they bring could help improve health and quality of life in developing countries, could lead to peace and stability in parts of the world and could lead to knowledge and reduce fear of the unknown or the misunderstood.

That may sound like hyperbole. We would argue it is not. International exposure is that important.

In addition for IU, tuition paid by international students can help offset losses in funding from the state. The university should consider the surcharge for international students now in place at Purdue University as a means of a further financial benefit.

Still, the students coming from foreign lands must have the language skills necessary to allow them to succeed without significantly more mentoring from a faculty member than that required by a student whose first language is English. Thus, it’s welcome news, as noted in Sunday’s story, that beginning with the fall of 2012 class, all new international students had to present proof of passing a language proficiency test in the admissions process, something that was not previously required.

Beyond that, if a student cannot complete the course work because of language deficiencies, they should not pass.

But as we champion the English-centered world in which we live, it’s worth noting that many students sent abroad from IU and other U.S. universities do not have stellar language skills in whatever culture they are dropped into.

Those skills grow significantly while they live abroad, and such should be the case with students who come here. But students traveling from the U.S. abroad also have the advantage that many countries in the world treat English as almost a required second language, so they can easily get by.

David Zaret, IU’s vice president for international affairs, said: “IU’s international strategic plan places a high value on the presence of students from all over the world as one of the foundations of a university that teaches a global perspective and conducts research representing the cooperative efforts of scholars around the world.”

That overarching point must be the one around which these issues revolve.

— The Herald-Times, Bloomington


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